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McCarthy needs to ‘figure out’ the speaker race

McCarthy is under increasing pressure from restive Republicans to find the votes he needs or resign so the House can get started.

WASHINGTON. Republicans in the House of Representatives are at a crossroads as leader Kevin McCarthy fails again and again to become House Speaker, but he remains determined to convince enough opponents on the right to vote for him and break the deadlock.

What began as a political novelty, when for the first time in 100 years a candidate did not win the gavel on the first ballot, has escalated into a bitter feud between the Republican Party and a deepening potential crisis.

McCarthy is under increasing pressure from restive Republicans and Democrats to find the votes he needs or step aside so the House can open fully and take charge. His right-wing detractors seem determined to wait out as long as it takes.

“There is no deal yet,” McCarthy said late Wednesday night, before the House of Representatives abruptly adjourned. “But big progress.”

The House of Representatives, which makes up half of Congress, is essentially deadlocked as McCarthy failed, one vote after another, to win the speaker’s gavel in a grueling spectacle for all to see. The ballots gave almost the same result: 20 conservative opponents still refuse to support him, and he lacks the 218 votes usually needed to win.

In fact, McCarthy saw his support plummet to 201 as one Republican switched to attendee voting.

“I think people need to work a little more,” McCarthy said on Wednesday as they prepared for their overnight break. “I don’t think today’s vote will change anything. But a vote in the future might.”

When the Chamber resumes at noon Thursday, it could be a long day. The new Republican majority was not expected to sit on Friday, the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The protracted and divisive speaker fight will almost certainly highlight the fragility of American democracy since the attempted uprising two years ago.

“Everyone who serves in the House of Representatives shares the responsibility to give this body dignity,” former Speaker of California Democrat Nancy Pelosi tweeted.

Pelosi also said that “Republicans’ cavalier attitude towards the election of the speaker is frivolous, disrespectful and unworthy of this institution. We must open the Chamber and start people’s work.”

Some Republicans seem increasingly concerned about how Republicans in the House of Representatives took charge after the midterm elections, only to see the House turn its head over the speaker’s race in the early days of its new majority.

Colorado Republican Ken Buck said he did not encourage McCarthy to step aside. “I told him he needed to figure out how to make a deal to move forward,” he said.

McCarthy vowed to fight to the end for the Speaker’s seat in a battle that, in the early days of the new Congress, threw new majorities into turmoil.

Right-wing conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and on the side of former President Donald Trump, appeared to be emboldened by the standoff, even though Trump publicly backed McCarthy.

“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Florida Republican Byron Donalds, who has been nominated as an alternative three times by conservative colleagues. “There are a lot of members in the House who want to have a serious talk about how we can wrap this up and choose a speaker.”

The disorganized start of the new Congress pointed to the difficulties ahead, as the Republicans now control the House of Representatives, in much the same way that some former Republican speakers, including John Boehner, struggled to lead the rebellious right. Result: the closure of the government, confrontation and early retirement of Boner.

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of whom have joined Trump’s Make America Great Again program, want to flip business as usual in Washington and were determined to stop McCarthy’s rise without giving in to their priorities.

But even Trump’s most ardent supporters disagreed on the issue. Colorado Republican Lauren Bobert, who ran Donalds for the second time, urged the former president to tell McCarthy, “Sir, you have no votes and it’s time to go.”

By McCarthy’s own calculations, he needs to win over a dozen or so Republicans who have so far withdrew their support as he pushes for the job he’s long wanted.

To rally support, McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of Freedom Caucus members, who have been campaigning for rule changes and other concessions to give grassroots more influence.

And the McCarthy-affiliated campaign group, the Conservative Leadership Foundation, offered another concession, saying it would no longer spend money on elections “in any open primary in safe Republican districts.” the House of Representatives was treated unfairly as the campaign fund was putting its resources elsewhere.

Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, called the latest round of talks “productive.”

“I’m open to anything that will give me the opportunity to protect my constituents from this godforsaken city,” said Texas Republican Chip Roy, another member of the conservative group.

But not all of McCarthy’s opponents have the same grievances, and he may never be able to beat some of them.

“I am ready to vote all night, all week, all month and never for this person,” said Florida Republican Matt Goetz.

Such staunch opposition carried echoes of McCarthy’s earlier bid for the position, when he dropped out of the 2015 speaker race because he failed to defeat the Conservatives.

“We don’t have an exit strategy,” South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman said.

“There is nothing he can give me or any of our members that can be a magic pill,” Norman said. We’re here to test the speaker. Check the man, third in line for the presidency, and that’s good.”

Since 1923, the election of the speaker has not been held by multiple voting. The longest struggle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months, with 133 ballots cast, during the slavery debate leading up to the Civil War.

Democrats enthusiastically nominated and renominated their House leader Hakim Jeffreys on all six ballots for Speaker during the first two days. He repeatedly received the most votes overall with 212.

If McCarthy could garner 213 votes and then convince the remaining naysayers to simply vote in attendance, he could lower the threshold required by the rules to win a majority.

This is the strategy used by former House speakers, including Pelosi and Boehner, when they faced opposition with less than 218 votes.

One Republican, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, voted in attendance in Wednesday’s rounds, but that only lowered McCarthy’s total in the end.

AP contributors Mary Claire Jalonik and Kevin Fracking contributed to this report.

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